December 2, 2013

GLICK | Go C.U.: Red Hot Hockey and the Enduring Cornell Identity

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As the semester draws to a close with dizzying speed, I find myself brushing dangerously close to the reality that looms like a storm-cloud over all of us on the Hill: Our time here is fleeting; our semesters, ephemeral; our chances to make “college memories,” finite. If I can manage to burrow my way through the next two weeks’ worth of papers — unlikely though that may now seem — I will have completed two and a half of my four years at Cornell. It’s this realization of my own “Cornell mortality” that has driven me to categorize events into a morbid sort of countdown: now, only one Cornell Thanksgiving left; come January, only one Rush Week left; by March, there will be only one more Spring Break. The list balloons into a frightening segue to the oftentimes-menacing adult world.

This countdown is, in some senses, an unavoidable mental shift that begins as soon as we realize that each wave of prelims that we pray so fervently to overcome brings us closer to “the end.” In the crush of mundanities, it is easy to lose the essence of the years that we are all too often told are ones we ought to savor. If this trajectory toward premature graduation ferments too strongly in the mind of an undergraduate prone to philosophizing, it can pervert the Cornell experience into a Sisyphean bid to halt the forward motion of time. Viewing our four years at Cornell as an inexorable crawl towards the exit is no way to treat our precious college experience, but all too often we are goaded — by our parents, our peers and by nostalgic alumni — into doing just that.

Maybe we’re just looking at it wrong.

This past Saturday, after gorging myself on the deliciously (and fortunately) rare hybridized cuisine of Thanksgivikkah, I trekked to Madison Square Garden to watch Cornell Big Red face off against the Boston University Terriers. To say that the Garden had been transformed into “Lynah South” would not quite capture the spectacle of hundreds upon hundreds of red-clad fans — from both Cornell and Boston — that thronged the stadium. The dutiful melodies of the Big Red Marching Band still swelled at all the right moments, and those same collegiate war chants reverberated outward through New York City’s greatest arena. For a current patron of Lynah Rink happy to have rejoined the world of the living after a long weekend of the Walking Dead, my first experience at MSG Red Hot Hockey was a vastly fulfilling one. But as I looked out at the crowds chanting “Sieve!” (never mind the fact that we lost 3-2), I saw that there was something more.

Though there seemed to be an age cutoff of about 24 in my particularly rowdy section (God bless that unsuspecting usher), the Garden was swarming with alumni whose own freshmen orientations had taken place long before the Class of 2014 was out of daycare. While recent alumni reverted quite easily to their undergraduate selves, there were cohorts of bona fide adults who arrived with their spouses, their children and their grandchildren, taking an evening off from lives that are in many ways profoundly distant from our own. Yet, they chanted the same chants, clapped to the same cadence, cheered at the same moments and, indeed, wore the same sweaters. Their presence had none of the stilted awkwardness of a reunion weekend, nor any overt University attempts to compel philanthropy.

There was a heartfelt sincerity in these alumni’s fidelity to Cornell — they were, after all, there to enjoy it — that we are too quick to classify as an exclusively undergraduate phenomenon. While we are right to squeeze every ounce of memory out of our (typically) four years as undergraduates, we must not dread our departure from the Hill as the end of all things Cornell. The joy of the Red Hot Hockey game was its ability to serve as proof of the enduring nature of our collegiate bonds; we are students for but a brief moment of time, but we are Cornellians for the rest of our lives. It is altogether too daunting to view each end of each semester as another nail in the coffin of our college experience without realizing that this is an experience that can, in some way or another, carry us through the rest of our lives. So much pleasure in life is transitory, and it is an unnecessarily grim thought experiment to reduce the relative permanence of a Cornell identity into the compressed haze of a four-year undergraduate career. The fans at Madison Square Garden would surely tell you otherwise.

So, as we all trundle off to Olin and close the book on another semesters’ worth of Cornell memories, we should not be asking ourselves how many we have left, as if to suggest that our time as Cornellians is too rapidly expiring. We should instead be asking ourselves how many lie ahead, and how, in the endless cascade of prelims, finals (and life), we can capture at least a few moments of oneness — whether at Lynah or at Libe or at Madison Square Garden — in which our status as Cornellians is more lasting than the semester that is, inevitably, already slipping away.